In Arctic, Warmer Climate Means More “Beavers Defecating” And Disease

Kivalina, Alaska.<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/uscgpress/3817629717/sizes/m/in/photostream/">US Coast Guard Press</a>/Flickr.


Two new studies by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium report that warmer climates are threatening the Northwest Arctic’s food-cooling and water-treatment systems, and posing various food- and waterborne health risks to nearby communities.

According to the studies, two small communities in the region, Kivalina and Point Hope, are experiencing longer warm seasons that cause sanitary water systems to flood, damage “washaterias” (places where people can get clean water to bathe or wash clothes), and worsen algae blooms. In 2004, Kivalina had to close its washateria after the belated freeze-up damaged its leach field system for the winter; during the shut down, the village reported a rise in respiratory and skin diseases. In Point Hope, algae blooms between 2007 and 2008 became so frequent and large in the nearby lake that the village’s water that technicians had to clean filters more than a dozen times daily.

Worse, warmer temperatures have meant longer growing seasons, triggering a spike in the number of wood-chewing beavers, which are suspected of contaminating local riverways with solid waste and elevating the risk of giardia, a stomach infection commonly known as “beaver feaver.”

“In general, people could drink from [the creeks and rivers] freely,” Michael Brubaker, director of the health consortium’s Center for Climate and Health, told the Arctic Sounder. “Now they have beavers defecating into the river.”

Longer warm seasons also mean shorter periods in which villagers can dry caribou, fish, and seal meat before rotting, the studies say, along with melting ice cellars that usually store raw meat. That can lead to more stomach infections from botulism, salmonella, and E. coli, not to mention the more immediate threat of attracting polar bears close to town as milder temperatures expose the odor of raw meat.

The Arctic’s problems are not entirely isolated: Warmer temperatures have resulted in some 10,000 cases of food poisoning in the United Kingdom (PDF) as warmer weather breeds bacteria and other pathogens in meats. And both food regulators and scientists in the US are increasingly concerned about food contamination caused by germs that like heat. In the remote corners of the Arctic, however, where temperature swings can be more dramatic than other regions, the research is only getting started, and funding for adaptation projects has been slow to come. “We can’t wait around for 15 or 20 years to make sure people have adequate water and sanitation,” Brubaker said.

OUR NEW CORRUPTION PROJECT

The more we thought about how MoJo's journalism can have the most impact heading into the 2020 election, the more we realized that so many of today's stories come down to corruption: democracy and the rule of law being undermined by the wealthy and powerful for their own gain.

So we're launching a new Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption. We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We'll publish what we find as a major series in the summer of 2020, including a special issue of our magazine, a dedicated online portal, and video and podcast series so it doesn't get lost in the daily deluge of breaking news.

It's unlike anything we've done before and we've got seed funding to get started, but we're asking readers to help crowdfund this new beat with an additional $500,000 so we can go even bigger. You can read why we're taking this approach and what we want to accomplish in "Corruption Isn't Just Another Scandal. It's the Rot Beneath All of Them," and if you like how it sounds, please help fund it with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate